Canonical's Senior Engineering Manager in the Online Services team, John Lenton, explains the Amazon decision (under-the-hood point-of-view)
Days ago, Unity 6.6 landed in Ubuntu 12.10, introducing, along with exciting new features and refinements, a new lens, Unity Shopping lens, that pushes (when the user searches items in Dash's home view) Amazon results, clicking on an Amazon result, opens it via the default web-browser (consequently, the user is able to purchase the clicked item).
While the lens is invisible (doesn't feature a dedicated icon in the lens bar) and can be easily uninstalled in matter of seconds (yet, by purchasing items via the Dash, users are financially helping Canonical, company that constantly invests money in Ubuntu, operating system used for free by millions and millions of users), it seems that across the internets various users have expressed various complains about the Amazon addition.
Consequently, numerous Ubuntu developers (including the actively involved Mark Shuttleworth) and community members have performed a broadening of the mentioned landing, broadening in the sense of clearly fully communicate the purpose behind the Shopping lens, solidly strengthening key points, such as users are not commercial targets (being sold to Amazon), Ubuntu doesn't abandon its core years-long values, etc.
Along with the mentioned complains, various users have expressed concerns about one's privacy when performing searches and data transmitted from a local computer to (database/tracking program/personal statistics/in-depth gathering of user-identifiable bits) Amazon, consequently Ubuntu's Jono Bacon contacted John Lenton, Canonical's Senior Engineering Manager in the Online Services team (basically, the person responsible for building and managing the actual mentioned search in the Dash).
John Lenton's response is definitely clear, properly explaining the usage mechanism from an under-the-hood perspective, pointing out relevant facts (in order to clear suppositions, probablys, do-you-know-ifs, i-sure-hope-sos, etc):
- When performing a search, you expose no more information to Canonical than the originating IP of your request, the search terms you enter, and the result you click on (if any). We don’t perform any kind of “tracking”; there is nothing really user-identifyable there…the IP address is unreliable for this, and isn’t relied on other than for collapsing multiple searches into one in the reporting, and even this is after passing it through a one-way hash.
- Searches are currently performed over plain HTTP to our servers in a data-centre in either London or the USA, and then forwarded to the upstream providers appropriate to the originating request’s geolocation. The only potentially identifying bit of information, the IP address of the originating request, is not forwarded unless explicitly required to perform the search (so far, only one of 20+ upstream providers requires this: the Headweb video source for scandinavian countries needs to do its own geoip).
- We appreciate some of the community concerns about these searches operating unencrypted and we are currently working to encrypt these dash searches ready for the release of this feature in Ubuntu 12.10. This should resolve most of the concerns shared about unencrypted traffic.
- In terms of logging, the raw httpd logs are only visible to a small group of people whose job requires that they have access and who are trained in respecting people’s privacy in accordance to European law on this matter. The searches themselves, stripped of the IP addresses (replacing them with a one-way hash) are made available to a slightly larger group of people to enable statistical reporting. Because not only the search but also clicking on a result reaches our server (where it is redirected to whatever is appropriate), we will be able to infer what search results people want when searching for particular terms, and at some point in the future this will be used to help us provide better, more relevant results. This statistical gathering of a mapping of search terms to clicked search results is not done yet but will be done soon”.
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